Capitals Stay Cold in Florida, Fall to Panthers

Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin scores the Capitals only goal at 6:55 in the second period off an assist from Michael Nylander. (Alan Diaz - AP)
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007

SUNRISE, Fla., Nov. 15 -- As time was about to expire, Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun moved in front of the last-gasp slap shot that Washington Capitals center Viktor Kozlov had fired across the ice, gloving the desperation heave as easily as if he were playing catch in the back yard with a neighborhood kid. As the clock showed zeros, and the scoreboard a 2-1 Panthers victory, Vokoun flipped the puck casually to the ice.

That, he seemed to say, was no problem.

And that was exactly the problem for the Capitals, who didn't create nearly enough havoc for anyone but themselves.

Washington, loser of six of its last seven games, started a grueling stretch of 10 games in 17 nights with a performance that was not just disappointing, but also confounding. The Capitals failed to convert four power-play chances, including two in the final period. They got one goal from Alex Ovechkin and nothing from everyone else. They faced one of the league's least feared franchises and lost -- as usual.

It was their fourth straight defeat at the BankAtlantic Center.

"We have to get more" goals, said Capitals captain Chris Clark, returning to the lineup after an eight-game absence because of an ear laceration. "We had plenty of chances, but for some reason we're not getting the puck in the net, and it's hurting us really bad."

As has been the team's custom of late, Washington actually outshot Florida, 27-25. In the last three minutes, the Capitals barraged Florida with five shots on goal, but they got nothing out of it except exasperation. Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig seemed to sense the weight on his shoulders. After surrendering Florida's second goal on a breakaway by Panthers center Kamil Kreps at the 4-minute 13-second mark of the second period, Kolzig leaned his head against the post for several seconds, obviously seething.

"We're not getting the bail-out at the right time, whether it's a save or a goal or whatever," he said. "In the offensive zone, I don't know if we're getting ugly enough."

It's been a long time since Washington got much in the way of saves, goals, offensive ugliness -- or whatever -- at the BankAtlantic Center. Despite the quality of the team in this town, games never seem to be easy for the Capitals here. Over the past three seasons, Washington has a 2-9 record in this arena with one tie in 2003-04. Why the struggles? That's the question that has baffled the Capitals, who were delighted when goalie Robert Luongo left the Panthers via trade before last season.

"If we knew, we'd figure it out and turn it around," Clark said. "We thought it was Luongo, but obviously that's not the case anymore."

If there were any concerns about the region's nightlife or surf and sand, Capitals management seemed to address that by putting the team at a hotel on this trip in Weston, a wealthy enclave so far out on the region's western outpost that players were more likely to see alligators from the Everglades than models from South Beach -- which, by the way, is a good 45 miles south.

Whatever the problem, the point is plain: "We need," Clark said, "to win these games."

The Capitals got down quickly. Kolzig found himself out of position on the first goal, which gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead at the 7:58 mark of the first period. After stepping up to contest a slap shot by Ruslan Salei, Jozef Stumpel pushed the rebound to the right, and Richard Zednik flipped it into the nearly open net.

Kreps scored when he fooled Kolzig from 18 feet with a backhanded shot on a breakaway that followed a turnover by Tom Poti, giving Florida a two-goal lead early in the second. Ovechkin finally put Washington on the scoreboard less than two minutes later, ripping off a shot out of a crowd at 6:55 into the period.

But that would be it for the Capitals' offense.

"We're not going to win too many games scoring one goal," Washington Coach Glen Hanlon said. "We had our chances to score. We had the puck in the right spot with the game on the line. We're struggling a bit."

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